Just as you might feel the winter cold in your bones more with each passing year, older arthritic horses often experience increasing discomfort in their joints as the temperature drops. Here are a few ways you can help them cope with colder weather:
• Ensure that they get some exercise. You may be tempted to tuck an older horse into a warm, snug stall during cold weather, but confinement can exacerbate his arthritis. Exercise will not only keep his tendons, ligaments and muscles in good condition but encourage movement of the synovial fluid within joints. You can turn an older horse out in almost any weather as long as he has a thick natural coat or blanket and shelter from the wind. If you don’t have a suitable turnout space, consider putting an older horse in an indoor arena for several hours each day or commit to regular hand-walking.
• Manage your footing. When a horse’s joints don’t move as freely as they used to, negotiating tricky winter footing can be difficult. And it’s not just slick, icy surfaces you need to worry about—mud that is churned up with hoofprints and then freezes can also be hazardous. Do your best to keep footing smooth and ice-free. Pay particular attention to areas near run-in sheds, gates, troughs and hay feeders and the paths horses take between them.
• Support their joint health. If your horse isn’t already on a supplement formulated for joint health, winter might be the time to try one. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications also may benefit some horses, and injections of a product with hyaluronic acid or polysulfated glycosaminoglycan are another option. Discuss these possibilities with your veterinarian.